Alexandra Kometovna

Wes Anderson. The accidental tourist

Alexandra Kometovna
Wes Anderson. The accidental tourist

written and illustrated by HUGO GUINNESS

I first met the writer and director Wes Anderson back in 2000, when he was working on The Royal Tenenbaums. We remained close friends over the years and recently collaborated on his most recent film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. I spoke to him by telephone in July, when he was some way through a tour of Southern Italy via rail.

WES ANDERSON: There’s a killing machine here.
HUGO GUINNESS: A killing machine? What’s a killing machine?

I don’t know. A glowing electric thing. It looks like it’s a great big lantern. I’ve never seen one like it before. For bugs. We’re near Puglia.

Where’s that?
Not that far from Sicily.

“I don’t really go sightseeing … I usually just go somewhere to do what I always do in a different location.”

Oh right, so you are way down in the south?
We’re way down in the south.

Tell me something. Do you agree with Madame de Sévigné, who said, on sightseeing, “What I see tires me. What I don’t see worries me”?
She’s worried she’s missing something.

I think so.
Well, no, I don’t get worried, but I don’t really go sightseeing in the first place, so I don’t get bored, either. Because I haven’t done it.

So what’s the point of going anywhere?
I usually just go somewhere to do what I always do in a different location.

Yes, yes. Just the people and the scenery change.
The view out the window changes radically.

Couldn’t you just have someone install a different sort of backdrop every week or two and stay at home?
Now they do it with a green screen.

That’s a bit technical for me. What’s a green screen?
It’s how they digitally put in the exterior.

Well, that’s perfect.
You just put in the Sydney Opera House or the Golden Gate Bridge or whatever it is you like, and that’s outside the window. But I also don’t mind going for a walk or something, plus the food changes.

Ah, the food. That’s the main thing. What’s been on the menu recently?
Well, you know, we have our own vegetables and things that we’re growing in England, so when we’re there we just eat our own things. Everything comes from our little garden.

That’s exciting.
And here in Italy, where we are now, I eat pasta twice a day. We went to a place in Venice the other day where the guy takes the whole dead fish and he makes it into carpaccio in about three minutes right in front of you from start to finish. That was a good one.

Have you been eating fish more than meat?
We’ve been playing the field a bit. Is this—are we doing an interview for a culinary sort of a publication?

Not exactly. Let’s talk sports. Did you watch Wimbledon?
No. Did you?

Yes. It was pretty exciting. Both the women’s final and the men’s final. Did you watch the World Cup?
No. Did you?

A bit of it. There were lots of goals.
I think like 400 million people watch some of these soccer games. This might not be relevant to the article, but wasn’t it the last time you were in Venice?

When I got spooked?
The ghost story.

Yes, and I have not been back to Venice since.
What was the palazzo called where it happened?

It was called Palazzo Albrizzi.
Who did it belong to?

The Albrizzi family. We had a terrifying experience.
Maybe this is a good time to get your Palazzo Albrizzi ghost story out into the world. What happened again?

The palazzo is famously haunted, as you know, and I was there with a group of friends for my thirtieth birthday. The trouble started when a black butterfly was spotted in the kitchen by the staff. They knew what was about to happen and legged it. We went out to dinner at Harry’s Bar and when we came back we found the butler fixed to the floor, unable to move. When I touched him I got an electric charge through my body. All the furniture started flying around the room. We found out afterward there was a poltergeist. I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience that I genuinely believed was supernatural in any way whatsoever, but I have to say I hope it could be true, because even if it’s something so scary it might kill us, it still might be proof that probably suggests there’s a god or some kind of future. We’re bound to die eventually, anyway. Maybe we shouldn’t be scared by these ghosts, because maybe they’re our only hope.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience that I genuinely believed was supernatural.”

You want to keep going on forever like most people, I assume?
Yes.

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I ask because I spoke to my clairvoyant the other day and she is always right — she said that I was definitely going to have lung problems unless I stopped smoking. She frightened me so much that I actually have stopped.
I think it’s considered generally sound advice to quit smoking, whether you can literally see into the future or not. You have great strength of character, you know.

I never think of myself like that, though I know you’re quite willful.
I don’t like being told no. The wind’s blowing here and it’s slamming the doors and things.

What sort of wind blows through that part of the world?
It’s probably blowing in from Africa. Libya maybe? It’s the Italian version of a mistral, I think.

A sirocco maybe? How much longer are you going to be on the road?
In a little while we’re going to go to England.

To your vegetables?
Yes.

The trouble with vegetables is they all come up at once. You get nothing in May and June and then suddenly you have to eat like a rabbit.
Yes, that’s right. Maybe our interview needs a little more weight to it.

Yes, I think we’re going to have to beef it up with some intellectual questions. What have you been reading?
I’ve been reading David Copperfield for about three months because I’m so slow. Yesterday we were on a train for six hours. Actually, it was supposed to be six, but it ended up being nine. It was an Italian train. So I read a couple of chapters of that and watched the Errol Morris movie about Donald Rumsfeld, which is like a companion piece to The Fog of War — the Robert McNamara one — and then I watched Lincoln for about the ninth time, because I love it so much. I also watched this early Frank Capra movie called American Madness with Walter Huston. It’s one of his best. It’s a pre-Code movie involving a kind of bank robbery — more like an embezzlement —that causes a major crisis. Have you seen Lincoln?

“Yesterday we were on a train for six hours. Actually, it was supposed to be six, but it ended up being nine. It was an Italian train.”

I haven’t. For some reason I didn’t think it was meant to be very good.
Daniel Day-Lewis is lucky, because even though there’s nobody we’ve seen more still images of than Lincoln, he still doesn’t have to exactly compete with the real person, because we don’t know his real voice. Suddenly you hear him talking, and it feels like the first time ever. Suddenly the real guy is there in front of you. It’s like a documentary of him, but the movie’s more like a hagiography, too, I suppose. Is that the word?

I think so, yes.
What’s the definition of hagiography?

I think it’s when you rewrite the past.
I thought it’s when you try to make the person you are writing about into more of a hero, which is a reasonable thing to do with Abe Lincoln. Anyway, it’s so well written, and so interestingly written, and then directed probably as well as anyone in the history of movies could do it.

I’m going to have to give it another shot. I mean, I’ve always liked Daniel Day-Lewis.
Didn’t he come over to your house on a motorcycle once?

I met him once or twice, and the other day, funnily enough, I sat next to his sister, Tamasin, who lives in Ireland and writes very good cookbooks. But I don’t know Dan well.
Is that what they call him?

Yes.
He can cook?

I don’t know if he can, but his sister can.
Would you say she’s a world-class cook?

I really would. She looks quite like him, actually. Anyway, Wes, it was good talking to you.
Thank you, Hugo. The sirocco or whatever it is seems to be kicking up again. I’m going to batten down the hatches.